Hangout Music Fest 2014 Review + Photo Gallery
“There must be something in the water” remains a fixed expression in today’s world, describing a situation that really no one can explain. A handful of years ago that might’ve meant something else to this pristine strip of emerald green water, but last weekend it portrayed Gulf Shores’ ability to foster an indescribable vibe and uncontainable joy. Yes, some people are genetically disposed to happiness and thankfully they’ve discovered their Mecca: Hangout Music Fest.
The politically correct festival description would be: A tiny coastal blip on the radar where artists and patrons partake in a yearly pilgrimage to worship good music and flawless weather. But in reality it’s: Where Spring Break goes to Spring Break, with really really good music, too. A weekend where every “I can’t imagine a better place to play live music” is immediately countered with “I can’t imagine a better place to see live music.” It just becomes your daily mantra. Maybe it’s something in the water, or a southern mentality, or just a product of mixing the sound of ocean waves with the vibe of sound waves, whatever it is, Hangout Fest is doing something right. I was sent to the Gulf Shores for the fifth annual to find out Hangout’s majestic allure. Here are a handful of the best things I found along the way:
Friday was crammed full of attractive people, weather and acts – a healthy variety to get your gears (and liver) greased up for the lengthy weekend ahead. Festival Day 1 mindsets can always go one of two ways: conservative with a splash of “I’m going to save it up for the weekend” optimism, or completely full throttle. And once you’re in your element, it’s typically 110% the latter. This was indeed the case at Hangout – engulfed by sugar white sand with ideal summertime conditions, it only amplified the need to step it up a notch, or twenty. First, if you’re looking to book lodging for 2015 and beyond, the Best Place to Stay on the Gulf is on the West Beach Boulevard side of the long Highway 182 strip. Why? Easily accessible, close to the Waves grocery store (this is crucial, carrying ice is always a bitch), less crowded beaches, shorter rides with more frequent shuttles, public parking spots on 13th Street if you have too many cars in your group, and if you get in a pinch, you can walk home 3-ish miles from the festival (guilty).
Everything seems to taste better when you’ve been boozing on the beach all day. For the Best Fest Food, I stuck to the fresh local seafood, spending a lot of my time in the Alabama Gulf Seafood Courtyard. Acme Oyster House and The Hungry Owl were serving up some delicious shrimp, oysters, jambalaya and other Gulf treats, and the BMI Stage was right there to keep you entertained. At night, I branched out and dove into the dirtiest thing possible, the Gyro. And when I say dirty, I mean it in the best possible way – the perfect obligatory gut bomb to get you through the rest of the evening. Nothing says “I’ve been drinking in the sunshine for eight hours” than dried tzatziki sauce on your lobster-burnt chest. I washed it all down with my festival Best Drink go-to, Malibu and OJ. I’d never order one at a bar, but it just seemed to fit. And you can drink about a hundred of them. The beach kept calling its name and I wasn’t going to fight it.
Though there were many startling shows throughout Day 1, The Black Keys take the cake for Best Friday Performance. Anticipation was sky high as the headliners took stage to a mass of at least 25,000+, playing their first show since the release of their brand new album, Turn Blue. They broke out a couple old favorites — “Howlin’ For You”, “Lonely Boy”, “Tighten Up” — that got the crowd singing along, but pre-Brother hits were few and far between. But no one was complaining. The Keys stuck to their fresh material — “Fever”, “Turn Blue”, “Bullet in the Brain” — with a handful of first ever live performances of their new stuff like, “Gotta Get Away.” The new material is more drawn out, a little more trippy and jammy, but paired well with their familiar garage rock twang. The boys from Akron were the perfect way to kick off the weekend, and they most certainly set the bar high for the remaining acts.
Other notable Friday performances: repeat Hangout performers Dawes served up a melodious and cheery set to an early and large “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere” crowd, they play a way more upbeat live performance than their calmer studio recordings; Wiz Khalifa packed out the Chevrolet Stage elbow-to-elbow and received a heartfelt intro from his girl Queen Amber (also announced a new mix-tape 28 Grams coming out real soon); I refuse to miss Gary Clark Jr. whenever he’s performing at a festival and to this day I haven’t been upset, such a badass; and Chicago’s Gemini Club brought a unique blend of indie-electronica and rock to the intimate Red Bull Sound Select Stage.
Hangout and hangover are one and the same. Even if you don’t have a sip of alcohol, the sun and heat are there to keep you feeling foggy the next morning. But let’s be real, there’s a lot of drinking going on. Finally, after years of desperately searching for the Best Hangover Cure, I finally found one that works. It’s quite simple: You wake up, run straight into the ocean, and then immediately chug a beer. That’s it. Works like a charm. It’s the perfect mixture of Polar Bear Plunge and ‘hair of the dog’ to get you started. And to think for all these years I’ve been trying to drink warm Pedialyte. All I need to do is live closer to the ocean.
Saturday meant one important thing, Shakey Graves. Best Solo Act of the weekend, hands down. Shakey’s raw, dirty, nasty pickin’ and strummin’ create his incredibly good lo-fi charm. Known for performing as a one-man act with just a six-string and a homemade kick-drum-suitcase, Shakey invited a couple of his friends to take the BMI Stage to help him out – something he’ll be doing more regularly for bigger acts on tour this summer. Check him out on YouTube, I bet you can’t watch it just once.
View the entire “Day One” Gallery at The Blue Indian’s Facebook
Saturday was filled with an assortment of greatness, but the Best Saturday Performance in my opinion was Philly’s Amos Lee. His chilled out vocals and melodies paired perfectly with the environment and ice-cold beers. Breaking out “Windows are Rolled Down” to kick off his set, this tune was meant to be played with the sand between your toes. Transitioning over to Queen’s “Fat Bottom Girls” and Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” quickly got the attention of the swarms of onlookers and an enormous dance party ensued. Lee then introduced the Port City United Voices, a 25+ member female choir from Mobile, AL who accompanied him onstage for the remainder of his time. “Jesus,” “Cup of Sorrow,” and “Flower” off Mission Bell were beautiful paired with the angelic ensemble. Closing out with Boyz II Men’s “End Of The Road” was one of the highlights of the entire weekend — 1) because Boyz II Men are the shit, and 2) the entire beach (or those born pre 1991) were singing in unison, perfectly on pitch.
Other notable Saturday performances: The Black Cadillacs performing to a huge and rowdy Knoxville-based crowd; the absolutely gorgeous Natalie Bergman of Wild Belle; Modest Mouse performing “Ocean Breathes Salty” in its ideal setting, and playing the loudest rock Gulf Shores’ had heard in a while; and The Killers performing a plethora of their sing along hits and covering CCR’s “Bad Moon Rising”.
Friday and Saturday were unbelievable, but Sunday was the day. The day I had been looking forward to since the lineup dropped five months prior. I’m not a huge fan of the Britpop craze, but that’s what makes festivals so unique – so many different genre flavors to test out. I was pleasantly surprised by London’s quartet Bastille. These guys put on one hellova show, earning the weekend’s Best Euro’s. We all know the infectious Eh-eheu-eheu sing along “Pompeii,” but they have an arsenal of other hits from Bad Blood (“Things We Lost In The Fire” and “Bad Blood”) that pair flawlessly with a beach party. They were feeling it too, thanking the crowd for a memorable “first ever beach gig with a side of sunburn. So much fun.” Runner up: Boy band The 1975 came in a close second with a stellar performance on the Palladia Stage Friday evening. Lead singer Matthew Healy wholly embraces the rock star façade that you associate with someone from across the pond – denim on denim, shirtless, tattooed chest, ridiculous Rooster haircut, and proper onstage wine pounding. But hey, he can really pull off anything with a voice like that.
Birmingham AL’s St. Paul and the Broken Bones have been building a lot of momentum lately, and what better place to blow off a bunch of steam than in their beach backyard. Paul Janeway’s vocals are a freak of nature. Dressed in a full suit in 90-degree heat, St. Paul and his seven-piece soul band disciples, the Broken Bones, blew the crowd away at the overflowing BMI Stage. His vocal range would give Al Green’s a good run for its money as he took a bunch of jaw-dropped onlookers to church on this Sunday Best Buzz highlight. Check them out this summer, they’re going to be big time.
Best Fair Ride had to be Mega Drop because I was able to keep all 8 Bud Lights and a dozen oysters down on this 40+ foot drop in 1.2 seconds.
Asli Omar from The Tontons wins Best Looking Artist in a weekend full of seriously good looking people. Asli was excited to be back in the south, she studied painting at the Savannah College of Art and Design, but her passion has always been in music. Her hair, smile, voice, everything about her is drop dead gorgeous. I was in love.
Best Chest Hair: This dude.(Thanks for the photo @shelby_swannn)
There were plenty of memorable Best Cover’s over the 3-day weekend – Jimmy Buffett, Otis Redding, Steve Miller Band, and even OutKast – but how about Moon Taxi’s entire Rage Against the Machine set?! Playing together as People of the Sun, the crowd got so rowdy they eventually had to lockdown the Red Bull Select Stage area. Zach de la Rocha would’ve been proud. But Moon Taxi didn’t stop there. They pulled double duty and filled in for a sick Chance the Rapper to another rockin’ set of their own material.
Jack Johnson celebrated his 39th Best Birthday in style with the support of thousands of chilled out festivarians on the beach, of all places. “Flake,” “Wasting Time,” “Banana Pancakes,” Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker,” and Buffett’s “A Pirate Looks At Forty” were among his birthday gifts to us on a perfect sunny Sunday afternoon.
It will be hard to top this year’s eclectic lineup, but it will be even harder to conclude the weekend with another OutKast-type performance. If The Black Keys set the bar, then OutKast shattered it. The Best Sunday Performance had arrived. Andre 3000 and Big Boi were in their element, excited to be “back in the south” and Hangout’s exhausted 3-day partiers gave them all they had left. For 20 years the OutKast duo have been dropping hit after hit and they made sure Gulf Shores witnessed every single one. They brought the heat opening with “Bombs over Baghdad,” and later transitioning into a couple old school favorites: “Miss Jackson,” “ATLiens,” “So Fresh, So Clean,” and “Players Ball.” Individually taking stage to promote music off Speakerboxxx/The Love Below from their solo careers, Big Boi dropped his hit “The Way You Move” and 3000 brought the heat with “Hey Ya” – both equally the largest dance parties Gulf Shores had ever seen. Sleepy Brown made a cameo for “SpottieOttieDopaliscious,” and Killer Mike made a cameo for “The Whole World,” and then my inner-90s self exploded. All in all, one of the better shows I’ve seen and the perfect way to end out a festival on a high. Or in the words of Andre, “High as a bird.”
Hangout Fest’s one of those unique weekends that’s hard to wrap into words, you really just have to experience it for yourself. A special time where our love affair with good music and the faultless beach have the unique opportunity to interweave for 72 hours out of the year. 72 hours you don’t want to miss. The countdown to 2015 begins now… [shaka]